Nine years ago, shortly after I started the $10 Hall of Fame for a Dallas magazine, I seriously doubted the future of cheap wine: “The news for those of us who worry about inexpensive wine has not been good. ...”
This was at the height of the More Expensive is Always Better wine craze, when wineries were falling over themselves to charge as much as they could, quality or demand be damned. Because, if it was expensive, it had to be good, right? The situation was so bad that someone published a guide that graded wine on a price/score basis, so you could figure out if a $50 90-point wine was a better buy than a $40 89-point wine.
Turns out I worried way too much. The recession put an end to the pricing foolishness, while wine drinkers discovered that wine didn’t have to cost a lot to be well made. No less than a big-time California critic wrote recently: “Maybe I've just been bludgeoned for too long into thinking I needed to spend more for decent quality and interest. Spending less on wine makes me happy on its own, but the fact that often times I actually prefer the unadorned, straightforward, and open nature of such wines makes it a win-win.“
This is amply demonstrated in the seventh annual Hall of Fame, which added a dozen wines (and I could have put in twice that many). I have never seen so much quality cheap wine, and there is no reason to think that will change any time soon. Five wines dropped out, but mostly because of availability. Go here to find out which wines are eligibile and how I pick them.
The new members of the Hall:
• The Ludovicus and Zestos Spanish whites, brought into the U.S. by Patrick Mata's Ole Imports, the best Spanish wine importer in the world (and, if not for Kermit Lynch, perhaps the best wine importer of any kind). If you see Ole on a label, buy the wine.
• Australia's Yalumba Y Series, and especially the shiraz/viogner, riesling, and rose, which may mark the beginning of a revolution in Aussie wine. “The shiraz is an Australian wine that one can actually drink without taking a nap between glasses.”
• Luc Pirlet Pinot Noir les Barriques Reserve, a pinot noir from southern France that was “much, much better than I expected (being the curmudgeon that I am).”
• Mandolin’s syrah, a California wine that was the second-biggest surprise this year – “tastes like wine, and not like it was designed by a focus group.”
• Château Font-Mars Picpoul, a French white that “is everything picpoul is supposed to be.”
• The biggest surprise -- the Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red, which is no longer just another $5 wine: “All I can say is that the Wine Curmudgeon is as surprised as you are.”
The wines that dropped out were the Casamatta Toscana sangiovese, no longer $10; Chateau Barat, a French rose;.Chateau Boisson, a white French blend; Château Parenchère Bordeaux Blanc Sec, a white Bordeaux; and Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Rosado, a grocery store Spanish rose, all for limited availability.
Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, a sweetish white wine that has been in and out of the Hall several times over the years, is not in the Hall this year, but not out either. I wasn’t able to find a current vintage to taste.
The holdovers in the Hall of Fame include:
• The $10 wines from California’s Bogle Vineyards, and especially the old vine zinfandel.
• The Yellow+Blue box wines, and especially the torrontes and malbec, about $12 for a 1-liter box.
• Dry Creek Fume Blanc, a stellar sauvignon blanc from California that restored my faith in inexpensive California wine.
• Two Spanish cavas, or sparkling wines -- Segura Viudas brut (dry) and rose ("How can they do this so inexpensively?" a competitor asked me) and the legendary Cristalino brut, extra dry (sweeter than brut) and rose.
• The Hall's Asterisk Wing -- for the Vitiano red, white and rose made by the great Riccardo Cotarella. These Italian wines are sometimes $10 and sometimes $11, and it's kind of silly to keep moving them in and out of the Hall because the dollar fluctuates against the euro or because retailers are playing with margin.